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After DNC, city still deems events ‘extraordinary’

SPEED_STREET_SATURDAY
TODD SUMLIN - THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers keep a watchful eye on the crowd along South Tryon St. for Speed Street Saturday, May 26, 2012. Todd Sumlin - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

Since Charlotte adopted an “extraordinary event” ordinance for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the city has continued to invoke its expanded police powers during major uptown events.

But the ordinance, enacted for last week’s CIAA basketball tournament, is not used for all large events, some of which attract tens of thousands of people.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said some events may not be deemed special security events, in part because police don’t want to overuse the expanded powers.

The designation gives police more latitude to stop people on the street and search backpacks and satchels. The city said the ordinance gives police extra leeway to identify trouble before it escalates.

In December, Charlotte hosted the ACC Football Championship game at Bank of America Stadium, with an estimated attendance of 60,000 Duke and Florida State fans for the night game.

Later that month, the stadium hosted the Belk Bowl between North Carolina and Cincinnati, which was attended by about 40,000 people.

And this summer, uptown hosted a number of gay pride events, which organizers said attracted up to 75,000 people, including 20,000 people for a parade.

None was declared an extraordinary event.

Last week, the city hosted the CIAA basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena, which might attract 200,000 fans from historically black colleges and universities over several days.

In consultation with CMPD, City Manager Ron Carlee declared the CIAA an “extraordinary event.” There have been three CIAA tournaments since the ordinance was passed in January 2012. The past two have been designated as special security events.

In an interview last week, Carlee said he used the ordinance for the CIAA because of its large crowds. He also declared Food Lion Speed Street, the Fourth of July celebration and First Night on New Year’s Eve as extraordinary events.

Getting accurate attendance numbers for such events is difficult. Charlotte Center City Partners said it estimated 25,000 people were in Romare Bearden Park for First Night, but that others were in the streets and not participating in official celebrations. There were 15,000 people in Memorial Stadium for the Fourth of July last year, and also several thousand people uptown.

When asked about events such as the Belk Bowl and the ACC Championship, Carlee said he didn’t think their crowds were large enough to spur the special designation.

“I don’t know if those are as big as the CIAA and Speed Street,” Carlee said. “It’s a sense of the overall size of the crowd.”

He added: “Do we see any inherent danger with the CIAA and Speed Street? No.”

Maj. Jeff Estes of CMPD said the department puts in a request to the manager’s office to declare an extraordinary event.

He said large football games aren’t designated extraordinary events because the large numbers of people rarely congregate in public spaces, he said.

But the CIAA, he said, has large numbers of people throughout uptown, where they congregate in groups.

Whether the city seeks a special security designation doesn’t depend on the number of arrests or disturbances from an event, but the size of the crowd.

“There is the potential for something catastrophic in a public space,” Estes said.

Estes said it could be argued that there are times and places where football fans gather in large groups – such as entering the stadium.

But he said CMPD tries to balance individual rights against the department’s desire to keep people safe.

“We review every single event (for whether it needs to be a special security event),” Estes said. “We want to make sure we are judicious in declaring them.”

As the city prepared for the DNC, it was concerned that protesters would attempt to disrupt the event, and possibly injure participants and spectators. The City Council voted 10-1 in January 2012 to pass the “extraordinary events” ordinance, which was a “large-scale special event of national or international significance and/or an event expected to attract a significant number of people to a portion of the city.”

When an extraordinary event has been declared, it is illegal to possess a number of items, such as bar, chains, wire or any objects that could be used as a projectile. Backpacks, duffel bags and coolers are also prohibited if they are suspected of being used to conceal weapons.

When the ordinance was being debated, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina raised questions about the broader police powers. The ACLU also argued that the ordinance should be repealed after the DNC. The group still opposes the ordinance today.

CMPD has generally praised the CIAA as being a safe event, saying the large crowds weren’t unruly and that there have been few arrests.

CIAA Commissioner Jacqie Carpenter, who is overseeing her second tournament, said Wednesday that CMPD and the CIAA’s own staff team had handled security effectively.

“This event doesn’t have a lot of issues,” Carpenter said.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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